Obama Looks To Asia In His Second Term

by Joseph G. Lariosa

 

President Barack Obama delivered a 266-word shorter second inaugural address last Monday (Jan. 21) on the west front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. but Asian Americans, notably Filipino Americans, cheered when he said that, “We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom.”

In his first 2,401-word inaugural address four years ago, he focused his foreign policy on the U.S. war in Iraq “we will begin to responsibly leave to its people and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan.” In his Monday’s speech, he did not mention these two countries anymore as the last U.S. soldiers were pulled out from Iraq in 2011 and the “surge” forces will be fully withdrawn from Afghanistan by 2014, making Mr. Obama’s initial pledge mission half-accomplished.

Apparently, Obama’s second inaugural address was merely affirmation of his first-term pledge for the U.S. to “pivot in Asia” as it fought off two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while leaving China’s unchallenged in its robust economic growth and promise and if current trends continue could overtake the U.S. by 2030.

The inaugural address comes a day before outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan standing beside her, had warned that the Obama administration is opposing “any unilateral actions that would seek to undermine Japanese administration” of the islands, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.

U.S. TO BLUNT CHINA’S AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR

The use of “unilateral actions” was interpreted to mean that the United States was not pleased with China’s recent actions in East China Sea, where the islands are located.

Obama’s address appears to blunt China’s aggressive behavior of its claims on uninhabited islands in the waters of Japan and in Philippine Western Seas (also known as South China Sea). China is claiming Spratly’s and other islands closer to the Philippines than they are to China.

Obama said, “We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law.  We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully –- not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.”

Another cause for celebration by Asian Americans was Obama’s pitch to push comprehensive immigration reforms when he said, “Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants, who still see America as a land of opportunity until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.”

Out of the estimated 11.1 million illegal immigrants last year, ten percent are Asians, who overstayed their visas. In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security estimated that there were 270,000 Filipino “unauthorized immigrants”.

Asians have surpassed Hispanics as the largest wave of new immigrants to the United States, pushing the population of Asian descent to a record 18.2 million and helping make Asians the fastest-growing racial group in the country, according to a study released last June by the Pew Research Center.

In the last elections, about 73 percent of Asian Americans voted for Obama, second only to African-Americans at 93 percent and slightly higher than Latinos at 71 percent, according to exit polling by The New York Times.

OBAMA PAYS TRIBUTE TO WAR VETERANS

Mr. Obama also paid tribute to war veterans when he said, “Our brave men and women in uniform, tempered by the flames of battle, are unmatched in skill and courage.  Our citizens, seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty.  The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm. But we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war; who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends — and we must carry those lessons into this time as well.”

Some advocates for the benefits of Filipino World War II veterans, who were not able to get their benefits from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 signed by President Obama because their names could not be located at the National Personnel Records Center St. Louis, Missouri, are hopeful that in his second term, Mr. Obama will be able to help them with their benefits by signing an executive order or by endorsing a bill in Congress that will allow the U.S. Veterans Administration to honor military records other than those found at the NPRC in St. Louis.

During the elections, Mr. Obama appointed Chris Lu, the White House cabinet secretary and co-chair of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who launched of an Inter-agency Working Group that will take a second look at the benefits claims for the veterans.

In addressing the economic recovery, President Obama said, “An economic recovery has begun.  America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands:  youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention.  My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it — so long as we seize it together.”

An estimated 800,000 gathered during a chilly 40-degree weather to hear Obama deliver an address although still considered the biggest gathering of a second inaugural, almost half than the estimated 1.8-million who turned up in 2009. (lariosa_jos@sbcglobal.net)

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